Tuesday, April 21, 2009

100 Books? I was delusional

My friend Aaron likes to torment me because he is a troubled person. Recently he reminded me of my "read 100 books in a year" goal.

Yeah. When I have nothing else going on, this is feasible--I read 9 books in January. When I'm doing a lot of stuff (putting in a new garden, writing crazy stuff every day, working out, volunteering with the kids, etc.)--not so much. I stopped logging the books I was reading in February, which makes this kind of tough. Here's the (mostly complete, I think) list of what I've read so far, not including graphic novels or long runs of comic books, which I think are probably fudging the goal too much.

Nonfiction [6]
  • The Last Opium Den by Nick Tosches
  • Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction by David Keown
  • Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction by Kim Knott
  • Clausewitz: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Howard
  • Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A Urban New World by Robert Neuwirth
  • Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments by Brenda Smith Myles and Jack Southwick
Sci-Fi [8]
  • Year's Best Science Fiction 25th Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois
  • The Golden Age by John C. Wright
  • The Phoenix Exultant by John C. Wright
  • The Golden Transcendence by John C. Wright
  • Gridlinked by Neal Asher
  • Newton's Wake by Ken Macleod
  • Matter by Iain M. Banks
  • The Last Colony by John Scalzi
Fantasy [1]
  • The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan (reviewed this on Amazon)
Mixture [1]
  • The Dog Said Bow-wow by Michael Swanwick
Game-Related Rules and Settings Books [3]
  • Primetime Adventures by Matt Wilson
  • Suppressed Transmission, Vol. 1 by Ken Hite
  • Suppressed Transmission, Vol. 2 by Ken Hite
I'm currently closing in on the end of Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling, which I haven't read in over a decade. That will give me a total of 20 books as I close in on a third of the year gone by, with science fiction first, nonfiction second, and misc. categories bringing up the rest.

I'm only counting nonfiction and gaming books if I read the entire thing--I've been referencing a few of them pretty heavily recently but haven't gone cover to cover yet.

Seems like my reading pace has slowed a lot the last two months, so 50 books for the year is a much more reasonable goal than 100 was. On the other hand, I'm less than a pound away from my six-month weight loss goal.

Then again, I don't know how to count my progress toward my writing goal. As written, it says:
(1) Write for 500 hours or more. Only fiction writing counts toward this goal, and writing about a fictional setting does not count toward meeting this resolution. Only writing actual story scenes, narrative, description, or plots qualify. Try to write stories or chapters, but focus on writing something.
Well, I've written a lot, but much of it is for my web site, and much of it is more or less setting. So I imagine I'm way behind this goal as I originally structured it. Though I have been writing for an hour or so a day for a good while now.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


As for the Mesa Grande universe, I had some inspiration while mowing the lawn and I'm going to be laying down a chronology and fitting the various groups into it. It will require some heavy retconning of DOA, which will affect some of the mission profiles and characters, but I like what's there so I want to keep as much intact as possible.

Here's the basics: what is now the DOA team will become a team called the Specials, formed in the 1990s by a secret cabal within various agencies of the Department of Justice (no NSA or CIA) in response to some major events (such as the spectacular exposure and collapse of the alien-backed conspiracy within Majestic-12 and the civil war between the Kremlin Thought Police, their next-generation of young psychics who want to create their own society of telepaths, and the high-tech Rocket Corps). Not so much emphasis on criminals or outright deaths, but lots of characters being put through the wringer. Most of the recruited characters are former law enforcement or vigilantes serving federal probation for their failures. This is an homage to The Outsiders and the television show Alias.

The real DOA now emerges in the 1980s as a black bag operation of the CIA. The government has a discredited process that will imbue ordinary people with superpowers. The downsides are various unpredictable mental and physical side effects and the fact that everyone who undergoes the process dies within 12 months because of their transformation as their bodies either (a) reject the powers or (b) the powers go out of control and kill them in some fashion. The CIA, banned from developing its own metahuman program after the disasters of MK-ULTRA in the 1970s, offers felons the chance to undergo the process without telling them that it's going to kill them. The idea is that there's no long-term downside to using these people, as they'll take themselves out of the picture. So truly, DOA. The series arc culminates when enough of the mission members realize what the hell is going on. This is an homage to the comics Strikeforce Morituri and the Suicide Squad.

Also want to introduce the 1960s group The Order of the Green Flame: survivors of the Philadelphia Experiment who lose their official Office of NAval Intelligence sanction and form a private association of crime fighters and defenders. Plus the original Minutemen and their downfall, the new Minutemen, the villainous mastermind plot that succeeds in preventing nuclearwar, and so forth.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Magic vs. Psi

For my Elfshot setting, I'm thinking of going with the supernatural as psionics approach to fit in with a more contemporary, pseudo-scientific feel of the modern setting. This was a fairly common approach in the 1970s and 1980s planetary romance genre of fantasy/science fiction.

Looking through some different material from various games that have handled the topic, I find a breakdown that appeals to me:

Telepathy, the power of direct mental contact, covering everything from communication to illusion-casting to mind control to mind probing.
ESP, the power of moving one's senses beyond the physical body or material world, covering remote sensing, super-sensory perception, postcognition, precognition, and astral projection.
Materiakinesis, the power of controlling the movement of the molecules in inanimate matter, covering cyrokinesis, pyrokinesis, telekinesis, and the shaping of things like fire, water, earth, and air
(?)kinesis, the power to control the electromagnetic spectrum, covering light, electricity, magnetism, radiowaves, and so forth
Biokinesis, the specialized fusion of controlling living matter and the bioelectric energy and vital essence that infuses it, covering healing, regeneration, transmorphing, curing illness, longevity, and wounding
Antipsi, the power to neutralize or shut down psionic activity

I think that if I require various talismans, "sacred" languages, and rituals as methods of gathering, focusing, and channeling an individual's psychic energy (as well as making group efforts possible), in addition to implementing certain physical modifications (such as the Tap, a cranial implant that helps bleed off the waste heat generating by psionic activity, thus protecting delicate brain tissue from overheating and hermorraghing), I'll have a form of magic very similar to what I've already envisioned and grouped into categories that my mind can easily grasp.

I think this can work. I probably need to work on the names a bit, however. ESP and Telepathy are basic. The various kineses need some work. Gotta give everything some flavor.

Check out my Superhero Stuff

Okay, I haven't been posting much here recently because I have been putting a bunch of material on my web site, Dreaming Empires.

I had this inspiration, compulsion, what have you to take a bunch of actual superhero role playing game characters created and played by myself and my friends in junior high, high school, and early college, mix them with other concepts I'd had over the years, and blend everything together into a bright super-powered froth. Then I had the idea to make up missions for them AND write synopses of those missions as if I was describing an actual comic that was once published.

Still have a lot more work to go and need to get busy on other things, but I've put a lot of material in for the groups the Wild Hunt and Deniable Operations and Assets or DOA. The Wild Hunt, DPR, and Monster Squad are a bit of an homage to the X-Files, the recent incarnation of the DC comic book Outsiders, Ken Hite's Suppressed Transmission column in Pyramid magazine, and Hellboy's BPRD of comics and film. The DOA is a homage to the television show Alias, the DC comic book Suicide Squad, and one disastrous and another brilliant tabletop rpg campaign of my youth.

You can check out what I've been busy doing here:
The DOA main page (check out the missions and roster links at the bottom)
The Wild Hunt main page (check out the links to missions and specific characters)
The Justice Squad main page (there are pics of many of these characters on the DOA roster page)
The Monster Squad main page
The DPR main page

I created the pictures you see on some of the pages using a free online software flash program called Fabrica de Herois.

Please check them out and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's Not the Freethrows, Stupid

Sports commentator guys Mike and Mike made the offhand comment this morning that MSU lost to Carolina largely because they put them on the line so often, giving up 40 freethrows while shooting only 23.

Except, of course, that in the previous game Michigan State got outshot 33 to 20 at the freethrow line and won comfortably. Moreover, Michigan State got outscored from the FT line by the EXACT SAME MARGIN--seven freethrows--in both the win and the loss.

So clearly, the freethrows were only a part of what went down, and not really the most significant part, either. MSU had one starter foul out, as did UNC. Total fouls were 28 to 22. Given that the Spartans were in comeback mode most of the game, which tends to encourage players to gamble and commit fouls, that really isn't a big disparity.

Let's hear it for more shallow analysis from people getting paid to give us their opinions!


In honor of the asswhipping North Carolina delivered to Michigan State in the NCAA men's title game last night, I have a guest post from a diehard Tarheel pal of mine:

That was the Baskin-Robbins of Win. I would first like to yield thirty seconds to former Governor of Vermont and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean:


Thank you, Governor. The first twenty-five minutes were a motherfucking exhibition. There are no other words for that. After that of course we got slow, and sloppy with the ball, terribly so between about the 13 and 5 minute mark of the second half, and basically played level before we woke back up and decided to shut it down for good. Michigan State showed real dignity and bearing to not just fall apart completely. We maintained what we had to, even during the sloppy patch to get the job done, which let us


I'm sorry, was I saying something? I seem to have blacked out for a moment. Ellington had a big, indeed a brilliant, first half, as one of our guys has typically done down this stretch. Davis didn't screw up (much.) Lawson did it all and got whisker-close to a triple double (points, steals, and assists, a pretty sweet triple it would have been) with quiet style. And Psycho-T got his title, the one he earned last year already before our program's worst twenty minutes of high-stakes basketball since the second half against Marquette in '77 got in the way. We made up for that now.

Hope y'all had fun as recreational viewers. A bit dull for the last ten minutes I'd guess but before that some quality ball from one side, at least.

I'm happy for him, though I would have liked to see a more competitive game.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Carolina Domination

Well, Michigan State kept the 3PT shooting percentages close and got to 13 offensive boards, more than UNC managed.

And it made no difference at all, largely because Michigan State threw the ball all over the court they way they did far too often during the regular season. 21 turnovers to 13 assists. Carolina didn't even outscore MSU by that much at the FT line (7 points) certainly not enough to account for the blowout.

But a ton of turnovers, a better FG percentage (45 to 40), a 40% to 30% 3PT edge, and some extra freethrows added up to a comfortable margin throughout. Michigan State didn't win any of those battles.

So while I don't think my "key points to the game" were complete BS, they didn't matter much at all in the end.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

On the Other Hand

So, to my great surprise Michigan State went on to win in spite of the foul/freethrow disparity. Only a late flurry of intentional fouling by UConn to stop the clock brought the total foul count to within 10 (MSU 25 to 18 for UConn) and the freethrows to within 20 (MSU 20, UConn 33). The gap in both categories was much wider with 3 minutes to go. UConn had one guy, a backup guard, with 4 fouls.

Contrast this with the beatdown North Carolina put on Villanova. At the end of the first half, the fouls and freethrows were essentially even. Eventually Nova had to foul a lot to try to get back in the game and got blown out at the freethrow line (37 to 16, 20 fouls for UNC to 26 for Nova). But Carolina had three of its four starters with 4 fouls. Until Nova got desperate in the second half, this was a fairly evenly officiated game.

Frankly, Connecticut really choked in terms of their offensive execution. Handing out 8 assists versus committing 16 turnovers, going 21 from 33 at the FT line, making 2 of 6 3PT shots, and giving up 16 offensive rebounds to a much smaller front line translated into 13 more FG attempts for MSU than for UConn, more than making up for the extra 7 points the Huskies got from the charity stripe.

But I'll look forward to watching Thabeet get dunked on and muscled out of the paint in the pros as he tries to replicate Manute Bol's career, Robinson sitting at the end of somebody's bench with a bored expression, and Adrien playing out his string in the NBDL. I'd be surprised to see any of the Spartans doing much in the pros--Suton might fit into a team like Milkwaukee, Utah, or San Antonio as a bench guy, while Walton could be a defensive-minded backup point guard for someone. But then, they didn't get the hype of the Huskies, who managed to be unlikeable, arrogant underachievers once again.

As for the title game, I think the dangers faced by the Tarheels are (a) their bench seems much weaker to me if the starters get in foul trouble [the bench scored 5 points in 54 minutes in a game UNC dominated]; (b) their FT shooting was terrible; (c) they will forget to play defense at some point in the game. If Villanova could have made a 3PT shot or hit a pull-up jumper at any point in the 2nd half they could have made a game of it, but they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

This game comes down to two things: 3PT shooting and offensive rebounds. The secret of UNC's tourney success hasn't been much of a secret--they're defending the 3PT shot well while hitting a good percentage of their own threes.

Here's the 3PT shooting comparisons for the Tarheels' last four games: Villanova 5-27 (19%] vs. UNC 11-22 [50%]; Oklahoma 2-19 [11%] vs. UNC 5-14 [35%]; Gonzaga 7-23 [30%] vs. UNC 11-19 [58%]; LSU 9-22 [40%] vs. UNC 6-13 [43%].

Note that in their double-digit wins, Carolina has basically a 20% or better edge in 3PT shooting percentage, scoring more points with fewer shots from deep, making their offense much more efficient. In the one close game against LSU, the figures are pretty even. So the first key for the Spartans is to not get killed from the three-point line. They can do this either by shooting a solid percentage themselves and/or limiting Carolina's percentage. They don't need to win the war necessarily, just keep it close in terms of efficiency. If they can't, they'll lose by double digits.

The second key is the offensive glass. Carolina gave up 19 offensive rebounds to Villanova, 10 to Oklahoma, 3 to Gonzaga, and 14 to LSU. They only won the rebounding battle overall in one of those four games. Michigan State grabbed 16 offensive boards against UConn, 12 against Louisville, 11 against Kansas, and 10 against USC. Consistent success against tough rebounding opponents.

Based on these trends, I expect MSU to grab double-digit offensive boards against Carolina as well--the question is, can the Spartans protect their own defensive glass from Tarheel putbacks? Because UConn and Kansas basically matched MSU in that area. If MSU gets an advantage here, along with limiting the 3PT % gap, I think this is a real ball game.

The final x-factor for me is not so much the home court aspect for Michigan State so much as the fact that the Spartans played a MUCH tougher trio of opponents in the past few weeks than the Tarheels. Kansas is better than Gonzaga, Louisville is better than Oklahoma, and Connecticut is better than Villanova. USC vs. LSU is probably a wash. So the Spartans have come much closer to seeing opponents on par with UNC than the Tarheels have come to facing an opponent as tough as MSU is right now.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Quick Thought on Final Four

{Afterword: Well, MSU found a way. I still think my criticisms of the Huskies hold up.}

As I write this, Michigan State is beating UConn by 2 point at the end of the first half. And I'm saying right now that if the officiating continues to favor Connecticut to the degree that I've seen so far, there is no way the Spartans can win this game. None. They can keep it close, but eventually being called for twice as many fouls (12 to 6) and shooting about a third of the free throws (5 to 13) is going to do them in.

The Huskies have driven me batshit all year with the one-sided officiating. When the officials call a game fairly evenly (as with the March 7 loss to Pitt, where the Huskies shot ten more free throws but the total fouls were 14 UConn, 16 Pitt, or in the February 16 loss to Pitt, where the Panthers actually took three more foul shots than the Huskies and the total fouls were 18 Pitt, 19 UConn), the Huskies are vulnerable and tend to lose, as this particular collection of players has done the past few years. Note that their charming coach, Jim Calhoun, complained after both those losses that the officiating was terrible and one-sided. By which he meant that UConn was unable to amass its usual collection of free passes. When the officials are in the tank for UConn, as they have been most of the time this season, the Huskies are essentially unbeatable.

This was the entire, barely commented upon story of their defeat of the Missouri Tigers. UConn got called for 13 fouls, Missouri for 24, and they shot 20 more freethrows. In a game they won by seven points.

And it's not like they're a finesse team on offense or defense. I watched them commit plenty of fouls in the first half of this game on the interior and lots of handchecking on the perimeter. Multiple times Huskies got faked off their feet, landed on the offensive player with a lot of contact, and there was no whistle. Adrien in particular commits a shitload of fouls on the interior, offensive and defensive, that don't get called. Also, A.J. Price's go-to perimeter move is a push off with his left forearm.

If the officials just swallowed their whistles, as they seemed to do with a lot of UCLA games the past few years where everybody is allowed to pound on everyone, then it wouldn't bother me so much. Instead, the officials call fouls on one end of the court that are somehow not fouls when UConn commits them at the other end of the court.

Contrast this with Michigan State. Against Louisville, MSU got whistled for 22 fouls to 14 for Louisville, and shot 11 freethrows to 18 for the Cardinals. Against Kansas, 16 fouls for MSU to 17 for Kansas, 17 FTs to 13. Against USC, 18 fouls against MSU to 21 against USC, 31 FTs for MSU to 26 for USC. All very close except the Louisville game, where MSU overcame a deficit.

The preferential officiating on behalf of Connecticut embarrassing to watch for anybody who isn't a UConn fanatic, and it, along with the general jackassery and posing of players like Adrien and Thabeet, taints every victory this team amasses as it strolls toward the title game enjoying red carpet treatment.
And if they manage to lose this game, which I would find remarkable, they will have lost it in spite of enjoying an unfair advantage.